Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

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Story Time is Priceless

Last year, Emma was a pint-sized stalker.

She peered between the stacks at Dover Area Community Library at her hero, children’s librarian Miss Ellen.

“I saw you picking out books,” she whispered to Miss Ellen when she turned the corner.

“I pick out books just like you do,” Miss Ellen told her. “I like books, don’t you?”

Emma nodded, her eyes wide at the idea that Miss Ellen does something other than read aloud. But “liking” books doesn’t quite sum up our family’s affection for books. My children are passionate readers. And children’s librarians such as Miss Ellen are a major reason why.

Six years ago, new motherhood hit me with waves of worry, joy, responsibility, love and more worry. Add to it the fact that we moved to a new home in Chambersburg — where we had no family and few friends —and I often felt like I was drowning.

Shippensburg Public Library helped keep me afloat. In the bright children’s section of the beautiful Victorian mansion, I connected with other new moms. We asked each other a flurry of questions as the librarian set out carpet squares on the floor and crayons on the craft tables. How much cereal does your baby eat? What gets rid of cradle cap? Look at this rash; should we go to the doctor? Are you sleeping through the night yet? Dear Lord, share your secrets!

The other moms were like me — overflowing diaper bags cutting into shoulders stained with spit-up, dark circles under their eyes, instant antibacterial gel at their fingertips. And, like me, their mouths fell open as their babies quieted and then cooed as the librarian spun tales just for them.

Emma mastered her colors. Learned her ABCs. Fretted for Mama Duck when her “quack, quack, quack” didn’t usher her baby ducks back. She took turns, shared her crayons, and learned to trust an adult other than her mother and her father.

I found out which coffee shop had a play area for children, which park was skimpy on the mulch, which gym offered free childcare. I liked (and copied) the way one mom asked her stubborn toddler, “Would you like me to help you put on your coat, or would you like to do it yourself?” instead of ordering, “Put on your coat!” I took in the way the relaxed, go-with-the-flow mommies had relaxed, go-with-the-flow babies. I slowly felt the waves of worry recede, the waves of joy swell.

When Emma was 3, we moved back to York County. Before all of the boxes were unpacked, we had a library card.

Now that Benny is 3, it’s his turn to go to story time. “I want choo-choo book and truck book and firefighter book,” he says.

A couple weeks ago, after a story about the trains but before we danced with shaky eggs, Miss Ellen shared troubling news.

She told us Martin Library in York no longer offers story times for children. Was our library next?

It seems a minor thing, for sure. Just an hour of story time. Moms can surely read to their tots at home. They don’t need a librarian in order to sing songs, use glue sticks or talk about colors.

But children’s story time is so much more than books and crafts. Sure, that’s what happens. But, during that hour, my children and I — and everyone else in that cramped, book- and soggy-diaper-smelling room — are sewn into the fabric of our community.

No wonder story time is held for free. That hour is priceless. Its loss is heart-breaking.

Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 2. Enjoy more Smart Mama columns here.

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